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Zulgad: Panic time? Vikings have a chance to prove ugly loss was more fluke than fact

Mike Zimmer
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watches during an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Vikings did their best this week to remain calm in the face of a surprisingly ugly 43-34 loss to Green Bay last Sunday in which 24 of their points were scored in the fourth quarter when the Packers were firmly in control. The fact the Vikings lost did not come as a shock; the way they lost was disturbing.
A defensive line, minus Pro Bowl left end Danielle Hunter, that couldn’t get pressure on Aaron Rodgers. A trio of inexperienced cornerbacks that were too easily picked apart by the Packers quarterback. An offense that held the ball for a franchise-low 18 minutes, 44 seconds, gave up a key first-half safety and never got on track until it was too late.
Maybe if this game had come halfway through a successful season, it could have been brushed off as a fluke. But because it came in Week 1 it’s hard not to wonder if the flaws the Vikings displayed last Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium are an indication of what’s to come. At least for a few weeks.
Hunter was placed on injured reserve because of a neck issue, meaning he must miss at least two more games and his absence could be longer than that. The younger cornerbacks are going to take time to develop and, if there’s a continued lack of a pass rush, their job isn’t going to get any easier. The offense is missing standout wide receiver in Stefon Diggs (now in Buffalo) and questions remain about the offensive line.
The Vikings will get an opportunity to put much of this concern to rest on Sunday against the Colts in Indianapolis. The Colts are coming off a surprising loss of their own, a 27-20 setback against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Jaguars entered the season considered one of the worst teams in the NFL and they still have plenty of time to prove that’s the case.
Philip Rivers is in his first season with the Colts after 16 years with the Chargers and completed 36 of 46 passes for 363 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his Colts debut. The Jaguars turned those two picks into 10 points. Jacksonville did not get to the 38-year-old Rivers for a sack and the Colts’ offensive line is a strength.
That’s a potential issue because the Vikings know exactly what Rivers is capable of doing when he does face pressure. Last December, he was sacked three times and threw three interceptions in the Chargers’ 39-10 loss to the Vikings in Los Angeles. Rivers also lost a fumble that defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo returned 56 yards for a touchdown.
The best news for Kirk Cousins in this game is that the Vikings quarterback will have the advantage of having veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes on the other side of the ball. Rhodes, who developed into one of the best corners in Vikings’ history, had fallen off so badly by last season that the expectation was he would give up one or two significant plays per week. Rhodes was jettisoned by the Vikings and signed with the Colts.
While his jersey has changed, it doesn’t sound as if his level of play has. He committed a pair of costly mistakes last Sunday that led to 10 second-half points for the Jaguars. The first was a 30-yard pass interference penalty that resulted in a Jaguars field goal. The second came when Rhodes got fooled on a play-action pass that ended with a 22-yard touchdown to Keelan Cole on the winning drive in the fourth quarter. Rhodes was several steps behind Cole by the time he realized it wasn’t a run.
Sound familiar?
Mike Zimmer helped turn Rhodes into an outstanding corner after arriving as the Vikings coach in 2014. Zimmer is now in his seventh season and has never been 0-2 as the Vikings’ coach. If that is to continue, Zimmer is going to need far more from his team than he got against the Packers, and, honestly, he’s going to have to coach a far better game.
If that doesn’t happen, it will be very hard for the Vikings to sell anyone on the fact that they should remain calm.